Bill 164, Human Rights Code Amendment Act, 2017 passed second reading by the Ontario government on October 26, 2017 and has been referred to Standing Committee.
The Bill proposes to make significant changes to the Ontario Human Rights Code (Code). It proposes to add immigration status, genetic characteristics, police records, and social conditions as human rights grounds. The Bill is supposed to provide better protections to the most vulnerable in society.
Social conditions will be defined as social or economic disadvantage arising from (a) employment status; (b) source or level of income; (c) housing status, including homelessness; (d) level of education, or “any other circumstance similar to those mentioned in clauses (a), (b), (c) and (d).
While a significant change, Ontario will not be alone in recognizing social condition as a protected human rights ground. Human rights in Alberta, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Quebec, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Northwest Territories all recognize social condition, social origin, or source of income.
Ontario will also be joining other provinces like British Columbia in having a more fulsome protection against discrimination on the basis of “police records.” The Bill proposes to include charges and convictions and police records such as those that involve a person’s contact with police. This would replace the current human rights ground of “record of offences,” which is defined as an offence for which someone has been pardoned.
Genetic characteristics will be defined as refusing to undergo a genetic test or refusing to disclose, or authorize the disclosure of, the results of a genetic test. Ontario will join the Federal government in this regard. Of note, there is no proposed change to section 22 of the Code, which would mean the current exemption given to insurance companies to discriminate on the basis of age, sex and marital status would not apply to genetic characteristics. Previous bills attempting to include genetic characteristics in the Code allowed insurers to discriminate on this basis if the policy payout was over a certain amount.
If all of these changes become law, employers, service providers, and landlords will need to carefully examine their policies and practices to ensure they are compliant with the new law.
It is possible that the Bill’s current form could change before becoming law. Many bills are altered at the Committee stage – often significantly.
We will update this blog as soon as further legislative steps are taken.
In the meantime, if you have concerns that your human rights policies need updating, a lawyer at MacLeod Law Firm can assist you. You can reach us at [email protected] or 647-204-8107.
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